Hot on the heels of their warmly received Lieder album, Selige
Stunde, Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch have once
again teamed up, this time to record songs by Liszt. Both have
performed his works throughout their respective careers, and
that experience and affinity with the composer is on ample
Lieder fans are likely to have caught at
least one instalment in Hyperion’s excellent series of Liszt’s
complete songs, so won’t be too struck by how singular – and
perhaps uneven – his vocal music can be at times. Kaufmann and
Deutsch have handpicked some of his very best however, and
there’s hardly a dull moment for the listener. Most of Liszt’s
vocal music can be described as “big”, and much of the challenge
for the singer lies in navigating the emotional and expressive
Kaufmann more than rises to the occasion,
sounding in handsome, clarion voice. There’s much less of the
preciousness that used to dog even his best Lieder recordings,
and a willingness to simply let a phrase land without punching a
specific word for impact or colouring a vowel just so.
Kaufmann’s directness of expression is entirely appropriate for
Liszt, and there’s a natural intensity to his approach here that
Unsurprisingly, the piano line is often just as
complex as the vocal part, and Deutsch once again proves himself
an ideal partner for Kaufmann. His playing is powerful but never
coarse, and he finds both the darkness and wit in these songs.
In the album’s opener, the great Vergiftet sind meine
Lieder, Kaufmann perfectly captures the obsessive grief that
plagues the song’s subject. With ringing tone, he is by turns
hectoring, outraged, and full of recrimination, presenting not a
lament but an accusation of wrongdoing.
are his interpretations of the Three Petrarch Sonnets, which are
among some of Liszt’s very best songs. They require a vocal
largesse, a long operatic line that never wavers in control or
tone. This Kaufmann has in spades, and his joy in performing
these passionate, exuberant songs is palpable. Benedetto sia ‘l
giorno is imbued with a wealth of detail, while Pace non trovo
is one anguished exclamation of desire. The final I’ vidi in
terra angelici costumi is meanwhile surpassingly sweet, which
sees Kaufmann express a love that verges on the reverent.
The titular Freudvoll und Leidvoll appears in both the
second version of its first setting, and its second setting.
Both are superbly done, the text an ambiguous interpretation of
love. The former sees Kaufmann more anguished and introspective,
while the latter is imbued with a higher degree of agitation
thanks to its rippling piano part. Deutsch deftly ratchets up
the tension in both.
Other highlights include an animated
rendition of Die Drei Zigeuner, a wistful Es muss ein
Wunderbares, and an utterly gorgeous Die stille Wasserrose.
At 52, one feels Kaufmann is only just coming into his prime as
an interpreter of art song. How lucky we are.